Can the Monterey Bay Area agree on how to market the region globally?
What do places like the “Wine Country” of Napa-Sonoma County, the French Riviera, or, closer to home, Silicon Valley, have in common? Roger Wasson, a PR expert and president of Wasson Idea Farming, argues they have identifiable brands that evoke a certain image around the world. The “brand” gives these places an identity that potential visitors and customers already know something about.
The question at a recent conference in Santa Cruz was whether the diverse identities and competitive advantages of Santa Cruz, Monterey and the “Salad Bowl of the World” can be melded into a single, regional Monterey Bay Area brand that can be marketed globally. The event, titled “Branding the Monterey Bay Region to the Global Market Place,” took place Tuesday, Oct. 30 at the Cocoanut Grove and was sponsored by the Monterey Bay International Trade Association (MBITA).
The conference drew about 75 business leaders from the tri-county region of Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito, as well as Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), to sing the praises of the Monterey Bay region and encourage a collaborative approach to economic promotion by adopting a regional brand that could be recognized around the world.
Throughout the half-day event, local business leaders, investors, and Farr, insisted that this regional brand is not only possible but also is necessary for the area to get the recognition and the global commerce it deserves.
“We’ve got it all,” Farr told conference goers, explaining at some length how a regional, collaborative approach to marketing the region this way is critical for maximizing the region’s economic potential. Too often, Farr warned, local elected officials, business leaders and promotional efforts are confined to their own “sphere of influence” or separate “silos” of interest, and the region as a whole suffers from this fragmentation, he said.
“We are so awesome, and we don’t even know it,” Farr said. “We don’t know it because we rarely pull ourselves together as a region and recognize how awesome we are.”
Part of the problem, according to Farr and other speakers at the conference, is that the area is “awesome” in so many different ways, making it difficult to capture the whole in one, unified brand.
The “awesome” list, discussed without modesty by several speakers, was long, and began with agriculture. Mark Brody, senior vice president of Umpqua Bank, which helps finance wine exports, boasted that Monterey County alone grows more premium wine grapes than Napa and Sonoma counties. And, as the Salad Bowl of the World, the Salinas Valley produces about 80 percent of the nation’s lettuces. Both Brody and Farr bragged about how the unique seaside climate in the Pajaro Valley and other agricultural hotbeds in the area produce a wider variety of specialty crops than any other region in the world.
The speakers went on to list the area’s superior education and research credentials, recognizing that UC Santa Cruz is ranked second in the world in terms of research influence, according to the Times Higher Education’s 2012-2013 World University Rankings. The presence of several marine biology and ocean heath research centers, as well as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, were also highlighted. Add to these the Defense Language Institute and Naval Post Graduate School across the bay, in Monterey, and you have what Farr characterized as “the anchor tenants for ongoing economic growth in the modern economy.”
UCSC’s role in spurring organic farming and sustainable agriculture was included on the “awesome list,” as well, as were “clean tech” innovation centers and the entrepreneurial talent shown by companies like New Leaf Community Markets and Odwalla specialty drinks, both of which started in Santa Cruz. The discussion of what’s great about the area was followed by a look at what could be done better to market and promote those assets.
“What I see across the region as a whole,” Mary Anne Leffel, president of the Monterey County Business Council, tells GT, “is that there is nothing we can’t offer the world, but, individually, we all have gaps.”
Leffel told conference attendees that she believed the various websites for cities, counties and business associations across the region are disjointed and inadequate for effective business attraction. As an example of how they could improve, she pointed to a new demographic and business data website, equipped with a Geographic Information System, that the Monterey County Business Council is preparing to launch in the next few months. The new website will be tailored to the needs of business site selection experts who may be looking to expand or relocate to the Monterey Bay region.
“The site selection process is extremely competitive,” Leffel said. “When economic development and demographic data is buried in many of the websites around the region, we are losing many prospects that may consider moving here.”
In the summary of her talk included in the conference handout, Leffel wrote, “Increasingly, the traditional way of marketing each jurisdiction, industry and educational institution in a particular region, on its own, is failing.”
The Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council (CVC), whose promotional services are partially funded by a Transient Occupancy Tax, has a particular interest in the region’s key “export” of tourism. Tourism is a leading industry in both Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
“The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, our wine regions and our strong agricultural base are all commonalities we share, which could be leveraged together and expanded upon,” Maggie Ivy, CEO and executive vice president of the CVC, writes in an email to GT. “Additionally, a collaborative campaign can position both Santa Cruz and Monterey counties as destinations for not only domestic travel, but [also] for the international market.”
According to Chris Khan, a senior partner of Joint Venture Monterey Bay, a consortium of organizations promoting green and sustainable technologies and business practices, the lack of a coherent regional identity with so many economic centers might be united by their overarching concern for environmental protection of the area and promoting sustainable solutions to economic growth.
“This is the perfect place for a showcase of sustainable development and innovation,” Kahn said in his presentation. He added that innovations in saving water and energy, and a growing organic agriculture industry, all position the Monterey Bay Area to be a leader in “exporting” sustainable solutions that “visitors want to come and see, and then implement back home,” Kahn said. The “showcase of sustainable solutions” could be exemplified by an ultra-light, solar-powered rail transit around the bay, Kahn said.
The conference was a follow-up to a seminar/luncheon held in Monterey last April entitled “The Monterey Bay—Global Destination for Wine and Tourism,” which was also sponsored by MBITA. MBITA has been promoting international trade of Monterey Bay area companies since 1985, and manages a statewide website called TradePort.org that provides comprehensive information about assistance with global trade.
MBITA President Tony Livoti told conference-goers about an interview he gave to local radio station KSCO that morning, in which he discussed the possibility of holding a public contest for the best “brand name” for the region. In that radio show, it was speculated that perhaps the prize for this contest could be an exclusive lunch with Rep. Farr. Livoti informed Farr of this possibility at the event, and Farr said he would look forward to it.
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